My 33 1/3 book, on Aphex Twin's Selected Ambient Works Volume II, was the 5th bestselling book in the series in 2014. It's available at Amazon (including Kindle) and via your local bookstore. • F.A.Q.Key Tags: #saw2for33third, #sound-art, #classical, #juntoElsewhere: Twitter, SoundCloud, Instagram

Listening to art.
Playing with audio.
Sounding out technology.
Composing in code.

tag: gadget

This Week in Sound: Aphex ^N, Household Ghosts, Retroj.am

A lightly annotated clipping service

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  • APHEX ^N: We’re 10 days from the first anniversary of the publication of my book in the 33 1/3 series on Aphex Twin’s landmark 1994 album, Selected Ambient Works Volume II. I’m excited that it was one of the five best-selling volumes in the series last year, and I’m also overwhelmed at what a difference a year makes. Aphex Twin was mostly a memory when I researched and wrote the book, and for many months following the book’s release. He hadn’t released a full-length album in well over a decade. Just about everyone I spoke with about him spoke of him in the past tense. And then last fall he — Richard D. James — came, quite suddenly, out of hiding. He announced his reappearance with a blimp over London; released a widely acclaimed album, Syro; and filled a SoundCloud account with dozens of previously unreleased music. Then that account (soundcloud.com/richarddjames) when dark, though two new tracks have recently appeared. The first of those two new tracks announced the arrival of a new post-Syro EP, the excellent downtempo set Computer Controlled Acoustic Instruments Pt2. And then came soundcloud.com/user48736353001, where he has been posting dozens upon dozens of previously unreleased tracks. There were 110 tracks attributed to user48736353001 as of a few days ago, and then another 20 popped up today. And as if that weren’t enough, a mysterious new account associated with it, soundcloud.com/somadril, has 15 tracks — so far. (I’ve been informed via a conversation on ello.co that folks deep in the Aphex well are under the impression Somadril is a friend of Aphex, not him.)
    https://soundcloud.com/user48736353001/

  • GHOST-IN-THE-HOME MACHINES: Geoff Manaugh writes at New Scientist about the ways technology maintains our presence in our absence, for the purposes of home safety: “For example, there are already albums of background noise available to make it sound as if someone is rummaging through the refrigerator or watching TV in the other room. One collection specifically promises ‘hundreds of professionally recorded interior house sounds to give the realistic impression that someone is at home’. It won’t be long before audio effects such as these are integrated directly into a FakeTV-like system, playing deceptive sounds through hidden speakers in an otherwise empty house or apartment.” Once upon a time we might have used simple timers on lamps to do the job, and at more paranoid moments I did hook timers up to radios for the effect that Manaugh describes. The commercialization of such activities makes one wonder what’s ahead. William Gibson tells us the street finds its own uses for things. What uses will the home find? (Thanks, boondesign.com, for the tip.)
    http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn26904-new-urbanist-the-ghosts-that-keep-your-house-safe.html/

  • PLAYLISTS OF YOUR YOUTH: The new web service http://retroj.am/ — I write out the full URL because “retroj.am” doesn’t immediately announce itself as a web address — provides you with playlists tagged to various moments in your life. You enter your birthday — today, February 3, happens to be my half birthday, and my late paternal grandmother’s birthday — and it pumps out what was playing (in the U.S.) when you were born, and when you entered first grade and second grade, and when you graduated from high school, and so on. Well, not “and so on” for very long. Interestingly, it ends when you graduate from college — the presumption, likely correct, is that once you enter the work force what is playing on the radio is less likely to correspond with your actual life. One demerit: retroj.am only goes back to 1950, which leaves plenty of room for my memories, but not for everyone’s — and not for many curious listeners who might wonder what was a hit before your mother was born.
    http://retroj.am/

This first appeared in the February 3, 2015, edition of the free Disquiet email newsletter: tinyletter.com/disquiet.

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Playing with Fire (Alarms)

A sound art project in 9 volts by Jeff Kolar

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Few of us ever really take or have the time to consider the sonic nuances of a smoke alarm. We’re either too busy exiting the building or, more often, yanking the 9V battery when the boiling pasta has set the thing off. But characteristically curious Jeff Kolar has lowered the everyday gadget’s volume and applied to it his sonic microscope, yielding five tracks of high-pitched tones heard from various perspectives. The tracks are labeled with successive narrative aspects: “Ignition,” “Flame,” “Growth,” “Fully Developed,” and “Decay.”

There may be no sound more capable of getting someone’s attention than a smoke alarm, except perhaps for a crying baby. But in Kolar’s hands they are less piercing than insinuating. The shrill, sharp noises warp and layer and bend, each sequence suggesting itself as nanotech minimalism, from the bright chirp with which “Fully Developed” opens, to the ticking drone of “Flame,” to the tea-kettle anxiety of “Decay”. The effort is a work of audio forensics. In time, you come to understand the functional sonic components of the classic alarm, perhaps to even reflect a bit on this blissfully mundane aspect of life or death situations. It’s almost enough to make you linger the next time a smoke alarm goes off — but please exit the building before making sound art about it.

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Tracks originally posted at soundcloud.com/jeffkolar. The piece was part of the glitChicago exhibit that ran during August and September of 2014, and was produced by Kolar during his residency at ACRE. More on the project at jeffkolar.us/smokedetector. Smoke Detector CD, complete with its great “As Seen on TV” cover, via amigosshop.storenvy.com. Twitter image via Slate.com.

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The Sound of Achieving the Third Dimension

A proto-domestic proto-soundscape document by qDot

We purchased and installed a new dishwasher recently. It is so quiet that it requires a little red light to be displayed on the floor to confirm that it’s even running. When the machine is on rinse cycle, there is enough sound that one is aware of the motion, of the water, but still it sounds more like your neighbor is running a machine, several walls away, than you yourself are. When the little bell rings to announce that the full cleaning cycle is over, you would be forgiven for having forgotten it was running in the first place. If the previous dishwasher sounded like a stem from an Einstürzende Neubauten remix project, all clangy industrial noise, this new machine sounds like an alarm clock set to play a rainforest storm.

In contrast, our car is a pre-electric, pre-hybrid thing — the appropriate retronym escapes me — and it’s not so loud as the friend’s ancient Volkswagen we used to drive to the city in my relative youth, but neither is it as quiet as its 21st-century vehicular brethren.

What this audio track presents is 30 seconds of a 3D printer, perhaps the epitome of 21st-century proto-domestic appliances, doing its magic. It was recorded by qDot, aka Kyle Machulis, of the San Francisco Bay area, during (I believe) his recent stint as an artist in residence at Autodesk. The sound is nothing anyone wants in their kitchen or garage, necessarily, but convenience can trump all manner of other concerns, from privacy to comfort. One is left to wonder if this sound will become as common to a household as that of the microwave and toilet, or if several more generations of iterative improvement will pass and transformations transpire before the technology is welcome in homes.

Track originally posted at soundcloud.com/qdot. More on Machulis at his nonpolynomial.com site.

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First New Marcus Fischer Track of the Year

A simple loop, worthy of looping

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The first sound uploaded this new year by Marcus Fischer is a tape loop experiment, the source material for which is just a metallophone and bells. The slow layering, the loose tape effects, like the brief slurring of recorded sound, and the evident crackle from seams and errant noises collectively make for an endlessly loopable listening experience: a loop intended to be looped. The track is accompanied by a photo of the employed tools, evidence of just how helpful such information can be in the appreciation of a recording. Note in particular how the length of the loop is accomplished by extending it beyond the recording device’s dimensions thanks to a pair of drinking glasses and what appear to be candles.

Track originally posted at soundcloud.com/mapmap and dustbreeding.com. More from Fischer, who is based in Portland, Oregon, at mapmap.ch.

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Building a “Robot Friend”

From computers, keyboards, phones, printers, fax machines ...

“Robot Friend” opens like an early-Internet take on Pink Floyd’s “Money”: the beat is made of known, non-musical content. In place of the cash register, though, there is, foremost, the halcyon squelch of an ISP/fax handshake. According to the track’s composer/performer, Johnny Ripper, “everything in this song is made from recordings of electronic tools – computers, keyboards, phones, printers, fax machines, televisions, disk drives etc.” The result is a slow yet toe-tapping pleasure, one whose familiar verse/chorus near-monotony gains purpose thanks to its basis in everyday mechanisms.

Track originally posted for free download at soundcloud.com/johnny_ripper. More from Johnny Ripper, who’s based in Montréal, Canada, at twitter.com/johnny_ripper.

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